What are the best charities in Australia to donate to?

Update – February 2016: This article has had a lot of attention and has confirmed the importance of finding highly effective charities in Australia to donate to. As a result, I’ve co-founded Effective Altruism Australia, which uses independent charity evaluators to find and partner with some of the most effective and tax-deductible charities in Australia. The rest of this post is much less interesting now that I’ve done this.

See the charities

Why should you care about donating to the best charity?

It’s simple: imagine it is your friends, family, or even you who is in need of help. You don’t want to choose a charity that can tell you a good story about how much it’s helping. You don’t want to choose a charity that helps you a little bit. You don’t even want to choose a charity that helps a lot. You want to help as much as possible. 

Reason #2: The right donation can save lives; and the wrong donation can accomplish nothing.

Of all the ways of helping others in the world, how can I help as much as possible?

Effective altruism is a movement that tries to answer this question.

If this is your first contact with the concept of effective altruism, don’t let it be. I highly recommend one of the following:

  1. Introduction to Effective Altruism (effectivealtruism.org)
  2. The why and how of effective altruism (TED)

But you know why you’re here.

You already know that you want to help more rather than less. How do you actually do that? Below are 2 suggested approaches, using heuristics (rules of thumb), and looking at the research that has already been done on this topic.

Charity selection rules of thumb

You can't donate to the most effective charities in Australia by just focusing on overhead

You can’t donate to the most effective charities in Australia by just focusing on overhead.

  • Be swayed to where you can do the most good. My grandfather died of prostate cancer when I was young. The year I graduated from high school, I donated my Christmas money to a cancer charity because I was sad about his passing. A donation wouldn’t bring him back, but maybe it would save someone else’s life. I realise now that I’d rather help 2 people like my grandfather, rather than just one, and the exact way I help doesn’t matter. What matters is that they get the help they need, not how I feel about it.
  • If your selection is only based on overheads or administrative fees, you’re gonna have a bad time. Imagine a charity where 100% of your funds went to ‘Daffodils for Dogs’?
  • Think about the effectiveness of interventions (and the evidence for that), and then find charities that do these good interventions. For example, there are countless examples of things that sound like a really good idea, but do no good or sometimes even do harm (like the PlayPump). See also: list 1; list 2 . Once you’ve found some promising areas, you can find good charities working in these effective interventions.
  • Thinking about tractability. You need to actually have some chance of succeeding for it to be worthwhile.
  • What will your extra donations be used for? If the Peter Fund does a certain amount of good with $1 million, what would an extra million dollars achieve.
  • Room for more funding. Can the organisation continue to grow efficiently?
  • Neglected. With fewer people working in an area, it’s more likely that it was your donation that helped.
  • Transparency. Do you know what is going on with the charity, behind the thin veneer of what they selectively publish to look good?
  • Evaluation. You want to know that a charity rigorously does impact assessments and tacks when one isn’t working.

Promising causes

Global health and poverty

There is a lot to choosing a good charity. Luckily, there are a bunch of people working on it and we can use their research. GiveWell now have 20+ full time employees, write up extremely detailed analysis of charities, and have so far moved nearly US$100 million to effective charities. At the moment, they advise giving to the following charities:

Against Malaria Foundation

Distributes long lasting insecticide treated bed nets (LLINs) to stop people getting infected with malaria. On its own, malaria is pretty horrible – it causes someone to have 2 weeks of something a bit worse than the flu. They get a headache, sore muscles, diarrhoea, a fever and generally feel really sick. At a cost of about US$5 per net, including all operational costs.

The best bit? For about $3500 you can save someone’s life. Best $3500 you ever spent, right? We also know that bed nets work: bed net distribution is one of the best studied areas of  development studies. Read the full report by GiveWell.

Donate to the Against Malaria Foundation.

GiveDirectly

GiveDirectly gives unconditional cash transfers to the poorest households they can find, mainly in rural Kenya. They do this through mobile phone payments (I was surprised too!). 87% of donated money goes straight to participants. They did a randomised controlled trial (RCT), on their work and found substantial increases in short-term consumption, especially food, and little evidence of negative impacts (e.g., increases in alcohol or tobacco consumption). The people who receive the one-off transfer, commonly make investments that have a really high return on investment, such as a tin roof which doesn’t need to be rebuilt every year – unlike the thatched roofs they replace. Read the full report by GiveWell.

Support GiveDirectly’s programs (via Effective Altruism Australia – donations of $2 or more are tax-deductible in Australia)

Schistosomiasis Control Initiative

The Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) works with governments in sub-Saharan Africa to create and scale up mass deworming programs that rid people of intestinal worms. SCI distributes praziquantel (a drug used to treat schistosomiasis) and albendazole (for hookworm, roundworm, lymphatic filariasis etc) to at risk populations at a cost of $0.68 per person treated. GiveWell’s full write up

Data collected by SCI itself as well as two Cochrane Reviews show that this cures most infections, but the evidence is less strong on how this improves people’s lives (trials disagree on the magnitude of the effects). Despite this, some of the effects that have been found for this $0.68/person program look pretty encouraging:

  • 25% increase in school attendance and an improvement on tests of literacy and numeracy
  • 25% increase in income
  • 2.4g/L increase in haemoglobin (Hb) (which carries oxygen – low Hb levels are called anaemia and cause fatigue, weakness, breathlessness)

Support SCIs programs (via Effective Altruism Australia)

Non-human animal suffering

A recent consensus among neuroscientists supports the position that many non-human animals have the capacity to suffer. Upon learning this fact, a lot of people become vegetarian or vegan; but what route will lead to the greatest reduction in animal suffering? Becoming a vegetarian limits your meat consumption to near zero, but this doesn’t scale. Online advertising does scale, and appears to influence someone to become a vegetarian for around $12.

Support programs recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators

Existential risk reduction

So, you know human lives, right? Pretty good. What if they no longer existed? Pretty not good.

Reducing the risks facing humanity is a global public good, in the same way that the specific risk of runaway climate change is. This means countries struggle to cooperate to solve them.

Asteroids are one risk that comes to mind fairly easily. But most others in the field are mainly concerned about anthropogenic (human-induced) risks. This is mainly because the base rate for most environmental disasters is really low (one in ten to hundreds of thousands) and it gets a lot of research funding already, so is less neglected (see more). In the asteroid example, NASA et al. track 95% of near-earth asteroids. So, if not asteroids, then what?

Some commonly cited risks are nuclear war, synthetic biology and pandemics, geoengineering, advanced artificial intelligence, and [unknown]. Few could have predicted the colossal and diverse effects the internet had, let alone before it was even conceptualised. What development lies around the corner that will shape our world, for good or bad?

Some organisations working on this doing research and policy you can donate to include:

Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments or send me a message.

By | 2017-05-19T05:00:37+00:00 April 18th, 2015|Effective altruism|8 Comments

About the Author:

I’m the Director of Coaching at 80,000 Hours, a non-profit that provides advice to talented graduates on how to have an impactful career; and a Founding Director of Effective Altruism Australia, a non-profit that has raised $700,000 for evidence-based, high impact global health charities.

8 Comments

  1. Dave April 20, 2015 at 4:20 am - Reply

    Is this right? The Australian government is 2-5x as effective as the Against Malaria Foundation?

    Overseas. Charities that do work in the developing world, The Australian government buys QALYs (a healthy life year) for about $20 – $50 each; the Against Malaria Foundation for around $100.

    • Peter April 20, 2015 at 8:28 am - Reply

      Oops, up to 20-50 THOUSAND dollars. Thanks for pointing that out! 🙂

  2. Alexia April 20, 2015 at 7:44 am - Reply

    This is great!

    Thanks Peter! 🙂

  3. Nikhil Autar April 20, 2015 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    Great stuff man!

  4. Sophie May 18, 2015 at 12:48 am - Reply

    I am confused. The Give well website says they would NOT recommend the Fred Holows foundation?

  5. Robert Menz June 8, 2015 at 10:15 am - Reply

    Hi Peter
    Excellent research indeed.
    Both ‘Australian’ charities you mention do most of their work overseas. Many of us would know of Fred Hollows, but many fewer of the work of Catherine Hamlin (and her late husband Reg).
    Dr Hamlin was awarded the presidents medal by Australian Medical Association at its annual meeting last weekend. She is still working despite being over 90
    here is a link
    https://ama.com.au/media/2015-ama-national-conference-presidents-award
    Do you have any suggestions about Australian charities benefiting Australians?
    regards
    Robert

  6. Avrina January 9, 2017 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    Hi Robert, Catherine Hamblin is an amazing woman her work helps many women to have fistulas repaired successfully, a fistula is considered but when you look at statistics Australia and USA are having more and more women who cannot have successful repais of fistulas. It seems the work Catherine pioneered ensured the women were kept in bed for 6 weeks after surgery and her success rate is inctedible. Sadly here in Australia the women are operated on one day and sent home the next and the failure rate is high. Why have Australian Doctors not relised that complete bed rest could be the answer. Maybe we need fundraising to open her clinics here at home!! That would be as worthwhile as sending our $$$ to overseas charites.

  7. Donna March 23, 2017 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    I would much rather see more charities in Australia helping Australians. There is plenty of suffering here that can go forward with help.
    No wonder our suicide rate is higher than car accident deaths.

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